April 16, 2011

Growing Belgian Endive, Scorzonera and Salsify

SOWING OLD-FASHIONED ROOT VEGETABLES ON THIS COLD AND BLUSTERY DAY.

Often referred to as luxury vegetables, the chicons of Belgian endive, and the long tasty roots of the lesser known Sorzonera and Salsify may only be familiar to those who either are trained chefs, or those who live in major cities where fancy markets and fancier restaurants offer such treats as New York's Cafe Boulud's Crispy Rolls of Salsify with Prosciutto and Parmesan. Since Daniel Boulud is unlikely to stop by my garden on his way up to Martha's home in Maine, I can still access the same produce, even with the nearest Whole Foods Market one hour away, and a Dean & Deluca, three hours away.
BLACK SALSIFY ( from the Johnny's Selected Seed site)
BELGIAN ENDIVE CHICONS IN THE WINTER. THEY GROW FROM THE ROOTS THAT ARE DUG AND STORED IN A DARK CELLAR.


These are vegetable that we often see listed in seed catalogs, but ones which we pass on for many reasons, mostly because we have no idea what they are, what they taste like, or how to grow them. There are places in the world where Belgian Endive is a common winter green, where home gardeners grow the Endive like lettuce, dig the strong, thick roots in the autumn, plant them in boxes with sand, and bring them into dark places where the chicons can be picked all winter long for salads and recipe's. In Germany, Switzerland and the Netherlands, this is a common vegetable all winter long. But here in America, although I do see Belgian Endive chicon's in the market, it seems like I am the only one buying it.


SEED OF BELGIAN ENDIVE BEING SOWN IN NEAT DRILLS. THESE WILL BE HAND-THINNED, SO THEY ARE SOWN A LITTLE THICK, BECAUSE I CANNOT TRANSPLANT THEM. STRAIGHT ROOTS, ARE WHAT YOU WANT.

Salsify is not a new vegetable by any means, it was very common in early American gardens from 1700 until the 1920's, when root crops began to fall out of favor when modern refrigeration arrived. Most home farms and vegetable beds grew many root vegetables which would be stored for winter food in a root cellar or a store room in the house cellar ( like we still have). Commercial farms rarely grew such plants, and as such, when refrigeration arrived, so did new sorts of vegetables. My 97 year old fathers still talks about the oyster roots and endives being forced in our store room, and he also remembers when  Broccoli and Zucchini first showed up in the markets as a 'fancy vegetable'. His Lithuanian mother refused to buy them, thinking that they were odd.
PEAT, COMPOST, BUT NO MANURE (THESE VEGGIES DO NOT WANT HIGH NITROGEN) AND SAND IS ALL ADDED BY HAND TO A RAISED BED
So this year I am looking backwards, cranking up the old root cellar and the old cork-lined storeroom in our cellar where winter squash, barrels of heirloom apples and carrots and beets were kept all winter long. I am trying an experiment, and attempting to grow Belgian Endive myself, which can be tricky, but with new varieties, apparently, less so. Plant now, if you live in New England or USDA zones 3 -7. I sow the seeds a little thickly, but I will thin them out to single plants ( do not transplant! Which is important to note, since you must grow roots straight and deep, like carrots).
TURNING IN 6 CUBIC FEET OF PEAT AND COMPOST INTO A RAISED BED

I have prepared a raised bed carefully, with 6 cubic feet of peat and compost, as well as two ten pound bags of sand. As with any vegetable, careful preparation is so essential, since you are growing food not just ornamental plants. Take the time to carefully double dig your soil, which I prefer rather than rototilling, since modern tillers will ruin your soil texture, and you will end up with soft, powdery soil that will compact quikly into a hard clay. Hand digging is always best, especially if you add lots of organic matter. You will end up with a friable, perfectly textured soil which hold moisture well, and drains properly. Overwork your soil, and it can take years to get good soil conditions back again.
SCORZONERA SEED IS LARGE ENOUGH TO SOW BY HAND. SEEDLINGS WILL LOOK EXACTLY LIKE GRASS, SO HAND-WEED WITH CARE

I am sowing these root vegetables at the same time, in the same bed since they all require similar culture and maintenance. Remember, you are growing these, the Belgian Endive, the Scorzonera and Salsify all for their roots so deep soil prep is key, as is removal of small rocks. The addition of sand improves the soil texture, and ensures better drainage. Carrots, Parsnips and the like, prefer a sandy soil. All of these are vegetables that require garden conditions, and cannot be grown in containers.
CAREFUL SPACING IS KEY WITH ANY ROOT VEGETABLE, SINCE ONE CANNOT TRANSPLANT SEEDLINGS. YOU WANT TO END UP WITH A STRAIGHT TAP ROOT

So....what is Scornozera and Salsify? Both are sometimes referred to as Salsify, and both have a taste which is similar to Oysters, hence their common name to old-time farmers of Oyster Root. Scorzonera botanically is Scorzonera hispanica, and commonly known as Black Salsify or Viper's Grass. Salsify itself, the other variety I am growing ( Mammoth White Sandwich Salsify from Johnny's Selected Seeds) botanically is classified as Tragopogon porrifolius, and it is more commonly known as Vegetable Oyster or White Salsify. Simply, Black Salify has a uniformly straight root covered with a charcoal gray skin, and the leaves look like a clump of Narcissus. The White Salsify has a root that looks like a dirty white carrot, with leaves more like parsnips. Trendy today in only the up-scale restaurants, as are pork belly treats and organ meat. Why not try something old this year in your vegetable garden?
WITH AN INCH OF RAIN EXPECTED TONIGHT, I AM SOWING ANNUALS WHICH NEED TO BE SOWN IN SITU. THESE INCLUDE BATCHELOR BUTTONS, NIGELLA AND THE OPIUM POPPIES.

ANNUAL FLOWER SEED IS MIXED WITH SOME PEAT FIRST, AND THEN SOWN. THESE INCLUDE ALL THOSE FLOWERS THAT NEED TO BE SOWN IN THE GROUND, "AS SOON AS THE SOIL CAN BE WORKED"


3 comments :

  1. linda2:44 PM

    Thanks for the great info and photos. You are so lucky to have your father to talk with about these.
    Linda
    Kearney, MO.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Jem Mix7:04 AM

    May 10, 2012

    Dear Matt,

    I have been using Totem from Johnny's and am looking for another source of Belgian endive seed. I live in east-central MA, in Bolton. Once at the Nashoba Winery I had a red-tinged Belgian endive salad. Very pretty. Let me know if you have another source?
    Pleased to have come across your blog this morning-I'll be back!

    -Jem

    ReplyDelete
  3. Hi Jem
    The red endive I think you are referring may be red Treviso Radicchio, commonly sold -as -s harvested, it also can be 'forced' in exactly the same way as Belgian endive. I have seen it showing up forced this way in specialty markets ( i.e. Wegmans in Northboro for you, or at Whole Foods), this past winter.

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